Cancer Survivorship Centers Are Opening to Address Post-Treatment Health Issues

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • I need help.

    No, that’s not it. I want help.

    I hate to say those words. Hate to even think them. I don’t want to be considered “needy.” I never like to catch myself whining; I think complaining is a waste of time. All of that represents weakness to me, an inability to measure up to the demands of life. I don’t want to be a slacker, nor a softie. I want to be the strong one.

    And usually I am. My family has had a rough time the past 10 years. Out jogging, my older brother was hit by a truck that drove his head into the pavement; he was brought back to life on the operating table, and now suffers permanent brain damage. My younger sister, a victim of chemical depression, took her own life, leaving a 4-year-old son. My dad died of cancer. My mom now has brain aneurysms. In the midst of all this, I got breast cancer. What happened to our Father Knows Best, mom-dad-three kids all-American family? Gone, a victim of time and chance. 

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    When I was going through chemo, my husband said I was the bravest person he’d ever known—and this from a guy who’d shouldered a machine gun at the age of 19, and spent 13 months in a nightmare called Vietnam. I didn’t consider myself brave; just matter-of-fact. Not whining. Not complaining. Moving forward and taking whatever came next. I didn’t need help; offer it to the next one in line. I’m fine.

    But now, 7 years after those first dark days post-diagnosis, I’m losing my will to stay strong. Little by little, I’m slipping from the high standards I’ve set for myself. Is it selfish to want to feel better, all this time after treatment? How long do I need to keep a stiff upper lip? Would it be too much to ask to be free of pain, able to sleep, and not constantly battling weight gain?

    Since finishing treatment, my passion has been helping other women find their way through breast cancer. And this reaching out has enriched my life a thousandfold. But I sometimes look around and think, what about me? Will someone reach out and help me?

    As of this week, the answer is yes.

    Our local cancer center is opening the doors on a brand new survivorship clinic this Friday. Called CARES (Cancer and Related Events Survivorship program), it’s devoted to those of us who’ve finished active treatment, and haven’t had anywhere to take our continuing health issues. Our PCPs don’t know the intricacies of cancer; our oncologists need to focus on those in greater need. We fall through the cracks, with our chemobrain, insomnia, neuropathy, joint pain, and bone loss.

    There’s a growing initiative nationwide to deal with long-term cancer survivorship. Today, 66% of cancer patients live beyond 5 years of diagnosis. There are currently about 15 million of us survivors in this country, and the number is increasing dramatically as treatment continues to improve. Cancer survivorship is now a distinct phase of cancer, one increasingly recognized by medical professionals. And many hospitals and cancer centers, like mine here in New Hampshire, are doing something about it.

  • I still feel reluctant to ask for help. To seem weak. But hey, this new clinic feels tailor-made—they’re actually looking for people like me, people who haven’t known where to take their post-treatment, cancer-induced health problems.

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    People who want help, but don't want to seem weak. Who want to stay strong. Till suddenly, they just can’t anymore.

    People like me.

    Is there a survivorship program at your hospital? More and more treatment centers are launching these programs. Make it your business to find out. And here's an online resource for examples of written cancer survivorship plans.

Published On: June 05, 2008